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It Seems Little Brings Out the Nice Side in Everyone

I’ve got to admit, I’m a little concerned how this column is going to go, not getting the chance very often to write nice things about someone, and especially someone dressed in a Dodgers uniform.

But I’ve poked and prodded, baited and goaded and now marvel at what a normal, decent man Grady Little appears to be. We still have to learn more about his managerial style, thereby leaving lots and lots of room to zing him down the playoff road, but as grandfathers go, he’s cool.

Last week in San Diego he told me he had a gift for me, and I think back to when I began writing this column and Davey Johnson was the manager of the Dodgers, and if he had told me he had a gift for me, I would’ve handed it to the Grocery Store Bagger, ducked for cover and hoped for the best. (And I think you know what would have been best).

Little, though, seemed more intent on demonstrating what kind of sick sense of humor he has, handing me the movie, “RV,” and while that’s pretty funny as long as you’ve never ridden in one with your family, I’d like to see the look on the face of Frank’s Old Lady when she catches him trying to slip it through on his Dodgers expense report.

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I know what you’re thinking. If only Kevin Malone, Dan Evans or Paul DePodesta had thought to buy a DVD for Page 2, they might still be on the job and getting rave reviews. Just goes to show you that they didn’t know what they were doing.

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IT’S DIFFICULT to explain how easygoing, cooperative and engaging Little is on a daily basis, because you’ve probably heard him interviewed and that voice really doesn’t encourage anyone to keep listening.

He can be honest, though, acknowledging that pitcher Mark Hendrickson “certainly had a bad game again,” which suggests we won’t see Hendrickson starting a game any time soon. And he can be humorous. Ask him if he ever hit double-digit home runs in a season while in the minors and he says, “Counting batting practice too?”

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Nothing seems to throw the guy, even a session with a wise-acre columnist, which might account, in part, for the Dodgers’ resiliency.

“Are you disappointed in the Angels’ play?” I asked him Wednesday, wondering how he was handling the disappointing performance of our other L.A. team.

Little dropped his head and chuckled, and if this had been Phil Jackson fielding the offbeat question, he would’ve started walking away. Of course, if Jackson gave me a gift, it would’ve been one of the books written about him.

“I haven’t had the chance the last couple of days to watch them,” Little said, “and I feel badly about that.”

Vintage Little.

Then with a pause and a smirk, he said, “I do know the manager’s name, though,” while adding, “I thought that might be your next question,” alluding to an interview this week when he didn’t know the name of UCLA’s football coach.

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THE CONVERSATION shifted to Russell Martin, Little’s career as a double-A minor-league catcher, and “is there any difference between the way the two of you played?”

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“What’s he hitting?” Little said, and told Martin was batting, .286, he said, “That’s about 80 points higher than me, and with power. The difference between us -- he’s got a better chance to hit more than that, while I had a better chance of hitting less than that. We were going in different directions.”

I wanted to know if Martin is as tough and hard-headed as Little was, and he said, “I was better looking.”

I told Little that Martin doesn’t like to be given off days, and Little said, “When I played, the manager overplayed the first-string catcher because he didn’t want me in the game.”

Someone wanted to know if he was better than Bob Uecker, and Little said, “No, he played in the big leagues and I never played in the big leagues.”

Was he ever close to making it?

“They would’ve fired everyone in that organization if I had made the big leagues,” he said.

But didn’t you have a dream of making it to the majors?

“That’s all it was, a dream,” he said. “When I went in to get released from the Yankees my final spring training, I said to the guy, ‘Why did you guys keep me around this long?’

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"[After being released] they offered me a job managing their rookie team beginning June 1, which meant I went home for a couple of months after spring training. Between the time I got the job and I was supposed to start, the Yankees were sold to George Steinbrenner, and George does exactly what he wants with who he wants to do it, so in reality I was probably the first manager he ever fired and he didn’t even know it.”

Little not only has everyone laughing, but the Dodgers winning enough to top the division. And while that’s impressive given all the roster changes, it’s even more impressive knowing he was the very same guy when the Dodgers went into their post All-Star game funk.

That’s going to make it very difficult to criticize the guy, but not impossible.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Kevin Mahon:

“Please look at the standings. (The Dodgers) are really putting it together and all you can do is rip on J.D. because he participated in some publicity/charity event before a game. That’s weak.... I guess you didn’t see who threw his hat off and ran out to the plate smiling to meet Ramon Martinez. It was J.D.”

The one time the guy smiles, it’s in the 16th inning and I’m asleep.

In the future, if he’s going to smile, it has to be before 9 p.m.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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